AMESBURY — It may not be pretty but Amesbury Elementary School is safe, according to the superintendent.
The city is expected to begin construction on a $60.5 million elementary school on Lions Mouth Road this spring. The new school would replace the 61-year-old school building on South Hampton Road where students still attend class.
But at-large City Councilor Steve Stanganelli appeared before the School Committee on Jan. 6 and said he was concerned about a portion of the overhang in front of the building’s main entrance that appears to be falling apart, as well as modular classrooms that are experiencing heating and electrical problems.
Although Superintendent of Schools Jared Fulgoni did not answer Stanganelli directly at the meeting, he told The Daily News that the school is safe for students.
"We all understood that we needed a new school building because the current building is old, outdated and doesn't support an infrastructure for a high-quality, 21st century education," Fulgoni said. "However, our first, absolute priority is to make sure that the school building is safe. Is it an optimal school building? It is not. Is it a safe school building? Yes it is."
Fulgoni said he and the district's new director of facilities, Matt Bennett, walked through the school along with Fire Chief Ken Berkenbush and Building Inspector Denis Nadeau in October and the building was reissued a certificate of inspection.
"We walked through every nook and cranny and looked at it thoroughly," Fulgoni said. "They both told me this building is perfectly safe."
Fulgoni admitted the overhang is unsightly but said it's not dangerous.
"This is something that has been going on for many years," Fulgoni said. "It is an old concrete canopy out in front of the school and it has deteriorated. There was one instance where, during the after-school drop-off, a parent had gone up and put their hand on it and it ripped the section down. We immediately put in some geothermal netting the next day. After that, we cleared it and made sure the structure was 100% safe."
When reached for comment Monday, Stanganelli said Fulgoni's reassurances were not enough to put his mind at ease.
“In the lead-up to the (debt exclusion) vote for the funding of the school, the school administration was very clear in highlighting all of the deficiencies of AES," Stanganelli said. "They did not classify them just simply unsightly but unsafe."
Fulgoni added that an air quality test performed in April in an area of the building that had a pervasive roof leak and water infiltration showed no serious concerns.
“We had an independent company come in and do an air quality test," Fulgoni said. "They found that the levels of mold spores or fungal spores of any type were far less than the air sample that was taken outdoors."
Stanganelli said his concerns about water damage and air quality go beyond a spring time frame.
"There was a Facebook thread which had parents commenting that the water issues are well past the spring and that air quality test that he is referring to," Stanganelli said. "This was in November and December of 2019 and there is no mention of what has been done to fix the issue."
Fulgoni said the modular classrooms are also expected to last until classes move to the new building in 2022.
"We are not putting children in any place that is unsafe," he said. "But there still are not enough power outlets for computer usage and the Wi-Fi. It is not an optimal space for a 21st century education. But it is a safe building."
Stanganelli was also not reassured by Fulgoni’s comments on the modular classrooms.
“The issue is whether or not the modulars are long past their functional use date," Stanganelli said. "You can certainly check with the Fire Department for the number of times they have had to show up because of electrical fires in the heating system."
Deputy Fire Chief Jim Nolan said he remembered a call to the school for an issue with the rooftop heating system.
"We've been there once, maybe twice over the past two years," Nolan said. "There was one time I specially recall turning the school buses around. It is an old building."
Stanganelli said he wants to know what the district’s plan is to bridge the two-year gap between now and the new school opening in 2022.
"As far as we can tell, there is no capital Improvement budget or a capital Improvement plan,” Stanganelli said. "I understand that nobody wants to invest any money in a building they think is going to be vacated. But the reality is that, if something is going to be done with this property after the students leave, we shouldn't allow it to be wasting away."
Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.